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Whether you call it the ‘Middlebury Magic’, or the ‘Middlebury Way’, the Middlebury Language Schools have been perfecting the art of language learning at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, for over 100 years.

Each School’s approach may be somewhat different, depending on the style of the culture, director, teachers, and language itself. Several factors contribute to a successful summer of language learning, from the beautiful campus setting to a student’s personal motivations.

Recent alumni shared their thoughts about why the Chinese School worked for them.
 

The Language Pledge®

How is it possible to speak (and, hear, write, read, sing, joke, tell stories) only in Chinese for eight weeks in Vermont? Well, because everyone agrees to it! The Language Pledge is a social compact where everyone plays along. Here’s why it works:

The most effective part of the program is the Language Pledge. Since I was always speaking in the target language, my mind began to only think in the target language. The need to mentally translate every input into English was removed - cutting out the “middleman”. This enabled me to respond much faster, and more organically. The result of this was achieving a high degree of fluency in an extremely short period of time.

-Jason

 

The Language Pledge is key, because it forces you to use the language, and to learn by making mistakes.

- Tony

 

The academic environment is essential in making the Chinese School work, in particular the Language Pledge. It can be hard to get used to and frustrating at first, but it is what makes this an immersion program. There will be times when you are not sure how to say something in Chinese, so then you have to use what vocabulary you do know to communicate an approximation of what it is you want to say. Being surrounded by and forced to use Chinese as your sole means of communication is an effective way to improve your fluency. The Language Pledge creates a community of students, facing the same challenge of communicating exclusively in Chinese, who are supportive and encouraging of one another. As a result, the Language Pledge prepares you for situations where Chinese is the only language understood by the people around you.

-Ethan

 

Chinese Students play volleyball
Students commit to the Language Pledge both in the classroom and outside of the classroom in activities including volleyball, cooking club, and a lecture series.

The Chinese Language Teachers

The dedication of Chinese School teachers is amazing.

From early morning lecture to small group practice, leading lunch-time conversation, providing individual tutoring, teaching cultural activities, spending hours each week preparing lesson plans that meet both curricular goals and individual student needs.

Each teacher is hand-picked for their excellence in teaching Chinese, dedication to the curriculum, and personal commitment to mentoring students throughout the day. Students love the faculty for their ability to make learning fun!

I personally found the meal times and extracurricular activities with teachers and other students very helpful to really develop my skills in conversation and listening. The teachers do such a great job of encouraging conversation during meals, and giving feedback whenever you see them throughout the day.

-Tony

 

Another crucial point is that having great access to teachers outside of the classroom, allowed me to continuously reinforce content, and quickly master the material. My teachers had a very good understanding of my language level and what content I was covering in class. During meals, they actively used the vocab and grammar that I had studied that week, and encouraged me to do the same. By doing this, I was always “studying”, even if I was not physically sitting down at a desk.

-Jason

 

All of the Chinese teachers who teach at the Middlebury Chinese School are passionate about what they do. All of the teachers I had were very accessible and made me feel comfortable asking questions in class. They were always willing to help and very supportive. Because students and teachers live in the same dorms, eat in the same dining hall, and participate together in extra-curricular activities such as calligraphy, cooking, soccer, hiking, and volleyball, they get to know each other in ways that lead to more effective teaching and learning.  Students build trust in their teachers and so are more willing to take risks, and teachers gain a better understanding of their students’ strengths and weaknesses, which allows them to teach more effectively. It really feels like teachers and students are part of the same community – everyone is friendly, supportive, and learning.

-Ethan

A teacher in the Chinese School.
Chinese classes are small, and students get to know their teachers.

The Chinese School Community

Being surrounded by other highly motivated students and getting to know them in Chinese is a unique experience.

The summer program mimics the experience of being in a country that speaks Chinese, with the added benefit of having great teachers and students at different levels sharing the time with you.

I think Middlebury’s environment played a big role. The School is solely focused on language - within the program, nothing else matters. Your language ability becomes the main marker of intelligence and significantly contributes to social clout. Personally, I believe this created a really competitive environment that motivated me to study far more than what I would have been able to do in a normal social setting.

-Jason

 

Your instructors, your classmates, and the method make it possible; the combination of those things plus you makes that possible. The method attracts the most dedicated students and you are a part of that group; the language pledge awards you the freedom to make mistakes; and the instructors are the best in the world. The work doesn’t feel like work, and indeed it feels like play. By that definition, however, there is a lot of play.

-Carson

 

The daily schedule includes drill sessions when students break off into smaller groups to practice using the new vocabulary and sentence patterns. I think this is particularly important because it is one thing to hear an explanation of a new concept but quite another to put that concept to use. The afternoon tutoring session is typically more personalized. You work on particular things that you have trouble with, and it is a good opportunity for students and teachers to get to know each other better.

The Chinese School on a hike.
The Chinese School went on a hike nearby the Middlebury campus.

The Magic of the Middlebury Language Schools

The challenge of immersion learning is not for everyone. But when you can make the commitment of time and resources, the magic of Middlebury is the way to learn Chinese!

All of these things together are what made the experience so beneficial for me and set up my foundation and thirst to continue to learn the language.

-Tony

 

I became confident in my Chinese development within 8 weeks at the Chinese School compared to several years of intermittent progress in traditional classroom settings. Ultimately the Language Pledge, outstanding faculty, busy workload, and serene campus had me returning twice!

-Shelby

 

There are few things in the world that I believe in as much as the Middlebury Language Schools - I cannot understate how effective the program is. I went from knowing nothing to being conversational in a matter of weeks.

-Jason

 

I learned more Chinese in eight weeks at Middlebury than over the course of a year studying Chinese in China. How is that possible?

-Carson

Middlebury Campus
Students in the Chinese School live on the Middlebury campus with only students in the Chinese School who have also signed the Language Pledge.